Matzo Man

matzah
Matz-o, matz-o man, I want to be a matzo man . . .

I remember my mother dancing in the kitchen while we sang Passover lyrics of our own invention to the tune of the Village People’s “Macho Man.”

Matzah, the crunchy, unleavened cracker that we eat during Passover, gets a bad rap. We make fun of “Pesakh bread,” we gripe and moan about having to eat it for eight days, about it causing us to gain weight, about ending up constipated.

But when it counts, matzah does get the respect that it deserves. The English word “Passover” refers to the tenth and final plague that the Lord visited upon Pharaoh, king of Egypt, when he repeatedly reneged on his promise to emancipate the Jewish people from slavery. While every Egyptian household had its dead, we were spared when the plague “passed over” Jewish homes. In Hebrew, however, the word for Passover is Pesakh, which actually refers to the Paschal lamb that we were commanded to prepare and eat the night before our great escape from Egypt. But in the liturgy, the holiday is referred to as hag ha’matzot hazeh, “the festival of matzah that we now celebrate.” Thus, matzah is the very definition of the holiday.

When setting the Seder table on the first night of Passover in my parents’ home, the place of honor in the center of the table was always occupied by my grandmother’s matzah tash. This was a white cloth matzah cover, composed of three compartments to contain the three sheets of matzah used during the service. The outside of the matzah tash featured some of the most beautiful embroidery I have ever seen. Bordered in purple grapes and green grape leaves, a large orange circle contained the Hebrew words, also rendered in orange, for each of the items on the ceremonial Seder plate. Right next to Grandma’s matzah tash would be the Seder plate itself, featuring the symbolic burnt bone and burnt egg, as well as the crunchy celery, hot horseradish, Romaine lettuce and sweet haroseth that we eat during the Seder service.

Not only does the matzah tash protect the matzahs and prevent them from breaking into pieces and crumbs, but the white covering is a sign of purity and respect. When the matzahs are removed from the tash during the Seder, it is something of a grand reveal, the centerpiece of the festival officially presented to our family and friends in attendance. Then, of course, we get to eat the matzahs in all their crunchy glory.

Early in the ceremony, we break the middle matzah in two and, traditionally, the children at the table hide one half of it. Later, when it is time to eat the missing piece of matzah, the adults pretend to search high and low for it, without trying too hard. Shrieking with laughter at the adults’ “ineptitude,” the kids “ransom” the matzah for gifts or money. In some families, considerable negotiation ensues. This is followed by the second reveal of the evening, in which the kids remove the half matzah from its hiding place and the adults praise them for concealing it so well.

The combination of the respect we accord to matzah and the merriment we derive from it is nothing short of amazing. It teaches us to place things in perspective, that it is possible for us to appropriately appreciate the gifts in our lives without taking ourselves too seriously.

It makes me proud to be a matz-o man.

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45 thoughts on “Matzo Man

  1. Matzah does get a bad rep, though I think it’s somewhat undeserved. I think matzah’s kind of tasty, and I think it might’ve contributed to my stellar performance last night in my creative writing class during the critique sessions.

  2. Thanks so much for sharing your experiences with matzah. It holds a special place in my heart as well. The church I grew up in used matzah as the bread for communion, and apparently I used to hang out in the kitchen to see if there were any excess pieces left over. I was stationed overseas for a total of 14 years, and matzah were very hard to come by, but thankfully after several years the Commissary started to receive a large shipment in the weeks prior to Passover. My family and I even got to participate in a Seder ceremony, and it was a beautiful experience. I appreciate the reminder and memories.

  3. As a Christian, I enjoy reading the book of Genesis about captive Israel’s release from bondage by the LORD. I understand how remembering Passover and how God protected His people from the final death plague corresponds with what Jesus, the Lamb of God did for us at His sacrifice on the cross for our sins. Jesus is our Passover Lamb. Thanks for sharing. Connie
    http://kingjesusblog.wordpress.com/

  4. Awesome post about a beautiful tradition! I have been invited to many Jewish celebrations with some friends, but I’ve always suspected they really just pretend to be Jewish because they have insane fantasies about marrying a Jewish man, and your post confirmed that they ain’t got shit on you. Happy (late) Passover, and congrats on FP!

    • Matzo brei is wonderful! It was always a standard in my mother’s kitchen. I will have to remember to ask her for the recipe. Not that I cook, but I suspect it is sufficiently simple that even this klutz-in-the-kitchen could figure it out. 🙂

      • whoa, with bacon. “of assimilation” — you Reformers, you! reminds me of my wife reminescing (yeah, sp) about how her grandfather would stay outside as they ate bacon, railing complaining about these decadent “new ways”

    • You are correct! 🙂 Traditionally, we eat two forms of bitter herb at the Seder: super hot horseradish and leafy, bitter greens. The former is spread on matzah and the latter is eaten with the sweet haroseth as a spiritual and gustatorial counterpoint.

      • Haroseth is really easy to make and is delicious spread on crackers or on the traditional Romaine lettuce leaves. Peel and core any kind of apple (I like to use Pink Lady or Fuji). Shell 3 or 4 walnuts. Chop the apple and the nutmeats very finely (a few turns in the food processor will do ya, but I am old-school and use a knife). Sprinkle with cinnamon liberally. Mix well, adding just a tiny bit of red wine as you do so to keep things moist (to be really traditional, Manischewitz heavy Malaga is the way to go). Bon appetit!

  5. Pingback: Matzo Man | buildamassivelist

  6. Great post, though I still think that matza should be eaten only as far as tradition demands (seder meal) and then left alone. This pessach has seen way too much matza…my body is not happy…and I’ll stop before I delve into the land of TMI 😛

    • I am attracted to the idea of limiting matzah to the Seder. However, with the liturgy referring to Passover not as Pesakh, but as “hag ha’matzot hazeh,” I believe there is a major argument for eating matzah throughout the eight days. As far as what matzah does to the body, I’m with you, sistah!

  7. My family hoards ridicules amounts of bread about a week before Passover begins. The best way to eat a matzah is with chocolate, as it disguises its flavor 😉

    • Why, yes! In my family, we always used crunchy celery for the karpas, although other families use leafy parsley or yummy potato. Still, there is just something about dipping that celery in zaltz wasser and hearing everyone at the Seder table go CRUNCH!!

  8. Thank you so much for this beautiful and well written article on Matzahs. In the Netherlands we enjoy Matzes (as we call them) with butter and sugar… I enjoy the Matzahs also just by themselves, without anything on them. We even get wholewheat Matzahs over here nowadays.
    Thanks for sharing your lovely story!

    • Matzah with butter or with cream cheese is a staple for me during Passover. I have never tried it with sugar, but it sounds lovely, possibly as a desert with a steaming mug of tea. Out here in the desert, Passover deserts are all but impossible to find, so this might be a good solution! Thanks so much for stopping by the blog and for your kind remarks.

  9. I just love the TITLE , powerful like a Matzo Man . I am not a Kosher-Man but I learned many years ago to be an uncomplicated lover of MATZOHS, during the whole year .
    ( If available and affordable ) Thank you for educating us
    about such a great tradition. I recommend openly to all my
    patients. ( fooddoctorx.com )

  10. Wow! I didn’t have to look too hard for your FP piece — just go back far enough and find the one with the extraordinary number of comments. LOL Congrats. It’s well-deserved, as are many of your pieces. Did you have others? Please let me know which ones if you did.

    I too loved this piece, but our family is creating new traditions. This hide-and-seek of the traditional matzah is just delightful; we must incorporate something like that into ours. Thank you for sharing your uplifting story.

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